Transformation of Yoga
By Amy Priest
Ive been doing yoga since 1974. I majored
in dance at high school and my mother thought I might enjoy yoga and that
it might be good for me. It didnt take me long to realize that yoga
is what I wanted to do and after about six months one of my teachers suggested
I take a teacher training course through Integral Yoga. Two years later,
at the Pomfret Center ashram in Connecticut, I received my yoga namePadmafrom
Swami Satchidananda the spiritual director of Integral Yoga. The name
refers to a plant that grows from the mud and has beautiful flowers. The
name suited me because, while I was very much a flower child, I also had
two sons and had a regular job so I remained fairly grounded in daily
activity. When I became a yoga teacher, I decided to give up eating meat.
I didnt do it for health reasons or for any particular concern for
animals, but because I felt it was bad karmically and I didnt think
it was ethical for a yoga teacher to eat meat.
Hatha yoga is the physical practice of performing asanas (positions)
combined with the cultivation of the spiritual disciplines known as the
yamas and niyamas. Yamas means restraints and niyamas means disciplines, and
these form the heart of the yoga practice. There are five yamas and niyamas.
The five yamas are: ahimsa (non-violence), satya
(truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (control
of our senses), and aparigraha (non-possessiveness). The five niyamas
are: shauca (purity), samtosha (contentment), tapas
(austerity), svadhyaya (study), and ishvara-pranidhana (devotion
to the Lord). These help transform the physical discipline of yoga into
a deeper spiritual discipline.
For 20 years I practiced these disciplines which encourage compassion
for others and us. But I didnt really think about animals until
one opened my heart. It happened when both my sons were grown. One day
about six years ago, someone left a cat in my sons house and he
brought her to my house on the Jersey shore. I immediately fell in love
with this little animal and called her Isabella. I cant explain
it, but I just started seeing animals differently. Isabella changed my
life. I began to see the suffering of animals. I would see people abandoning
animals at the shore, and I started feeling pain for these creatures.
I joined one animal protection group after another. I stopped eating
products and found out about factory farms and went to demonstrations.
I stopped buying leather shoes and other animal products.
When I became a yoga teacher, it was just my own personal choice not
to eat meat. I didnt bring it up in any classes. After Isabella came
into my life, I felt her become a part of my yoga teaching. When I had
been practicing yoga before I met Isabella, I had told myself that all
the suffering in the world was for a purpose and that everything would
be OK and fall into place. I closed my eyes and chanted and hoped everything
would be nice. After Isabella, I and my practice became more conscious
and I realized things wouldnt necessarily fall into place. Now,
I present my feelings for her and my practice of vegetarianism as a fundamental
part of ahimsa and ask people to be aware that there is violence
involved when we consume animals. I am more direct and focused on every
individual in my class, aware of everyones own needs and levels.
I teach in that same consciousness with which I approach the animals.
Yoga has helped me deal with the stress of animal suffering. If I was
only involved with the animal rights movement without yoga, it would be
too painful. Sitting on my cushion and going through my asanas helps
me understand there is another level. But when we see suffering and injustice,
its not enough to say its all karma and turn
our backs. We have to do something, and this is something I feel I have
learned through yoga. Because of my animal activism, my yoga has changed
from hatha yogathe physical disciplineto karma yoga, the
yoga of action. Since I became aware of the animal issue, my yoga is
a physical practice than it used to be. Somehow, it has become more than
words or postures. It is now truly an integral yoga.
Most of my students are very respectful of my attitude toward animals.
At first it was very painful for me to see the suffering of animals in
so many areas. Im able to deal with it now because I share the knowledge
I have and can inform many people who dont know how animals are
treated. One of the women in my class asked me recently what she could
teach her child about yoga. I told her she should make sure to teach her
child that the yoga positions are often named after animals. In my experience
children love this fact. It serves to remind all of us, no matter how
young we are, that the animals have taught us these positions. I end each
class I teach by saying, May all beings be free from suffering.
May all beings find peace.
Amy Priest is a certified massage therapist and Integral
Yoga teacher who teaches at community and adult education centers in New
Jersey. She also teaches privately. All correspondence should be addressed
to her through Satya.